Green Fig: A Melting Pot of Flavors From Israel and Beyond

By Annie Wu, Epoch Times
September 12, 2016 3:11 pm Last Updated: September 15, 2016 2:35 pm

What happens when you cook pork belly with Middle Eastern spices? Religious tradition has historically kept these ingredients apart, but the beauty of living in today’s world, where cultures mingle and mix, is the discovery of new, captivating flavors.

At Green Fig, chef Gabriel Israel blends Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African influences from Israel, where he grew up, as well as from his travels, creating imaginative dishes with plenty of pizazz.

In the pork belly dish called Jaffa to Tijuana ($23), chef Israel renders slabs of pork belly until juicy, after four hours of roasting in spices and aromatics like sumac, cinnamon, star anise, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, and pomegranate juice. A sweet glaze made with the jus reduction is slathered on top, followed by grilled baby corn that’s been sprinkled with smoked paprika and lemon juice—a nod to the cuisine of Mexico, which the chef fell in love with while traveling there. 

Biting into the pork belly brings an explosion of vibrant flavors and sensations.

The Jaffa to Tijuana dish reflects a blend of Middle Eastern and Mexican influences. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
The Jaffa to Tijuana dish reflects a blend of Middle Eastern and Mexican influences. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

To scoop up any remaining sauce, the dish comes with chef Israel’s version of a Jerusalem bagel—a traditional pastry that’s thinner, longer, and chewier than its American counterpart, typically served with za’atar for dipping. For a bolder treatment, chef Israel said he added more coriander and cinnamon to the dough than the traditional recipe.

Playing With Israel’s Many Flavors

Chef Israel, previously of Boulud Sud and The Shuka Truck, embodies the melting pot that is his namesake country. His father is Israeli and his mother is American, but his roots trace back to Algeria, Morocco, Poland, and Russia.

Chef Gabriel Israel. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Chef Gabriel Israel. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

And so, North African harissa finds its way into a rendition of fattoush, a Middle Eastern salad ($14), while zhug, a Yemenite hot sauce condiment made of jalapeño, cilantro, mint, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, makes an exuberant topping for the potato wedges in a barbecue dish.

Laffa, a type of traditional flatbread, is part of the mezze (appetizer) spread. Its charred flavor and naan-like texture are a wonderful complement to the thick sauces—baba ghanoush, labneh, hummus, and tzatziki—served on individual plates ($18).

Green Fig's mezze dishes are ideal for sharing. Tear apart the laffa flatbread and get to work eating. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Green Fig’s mezze dishes are ideal for sharing. Tear apart the laffa flatbread and get to work eating. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The “Not Kosher” BBQ is the chef’s take on American barbecue with an Asian flair ($28). Pork ribs are first given a dry rub of cumin, brown sugar, cayenne, fennel seeds, and salt. Then after baking for four hours, they are dipped in a savory-sweet sauce made with ingredients like ketchup, sesame oil, orange juice, and ginger, before returning to the oven.

The result is a muted heat that borders on bitter, with occasional notes of sweetness popping up. The dish comes with kohlrabi salad, addictive potato wedges (super crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside), and labneh dip to cool down the spices.

Although he experiments with elements of the cuisine, the flavors are still reminiscent of the food back in Israel. “I want people to remember the past,” he said. “Like, ‘This reminds me of my mom’s or my grandma’s [food].'”

In the Skin Charred Sea Bream dish, chef Israel deconstructs a traditional spicy Moroccan fish stew, offering varied textures: sea bream fillets, root purée, smoked red peppers, sautéed leeks, spiced chickpeas, and a zesty cream made from the tomato base ($19).

Chef Israel often uses his graffiti artist background to merge the different components of his dishes together. Like a piece of street art with dots and swirls surrounding block letters, the Om Kalthoum Steak ($31) features a skirt cut deliciously seasoned with a Middle Eastern spice blend of nutmeg, ginger, cumin, and other aromatics, served alongside curled chanterelle mushrooms and daikon sheets on dollops of cauliflower purée, dotted with kernels of smoked corn and brightly colored fava beans. The mushrooms, sautéed in garlic and olive oil, are especially memorable.

Thanks to a marinade filled with Middle Eastern spices, the Om Kalthoum Steak packs tons of flavor. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Thanks to a marinade filled with Middle Eastern spices, the Om Kalthoum Steak packs tons of flavor. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The vegetarian version, The Carrot Steak ($12), equally dazzles, visually and taste-wise. Resting on a slab of wood, a sweet, generously charred carrot is adorned with housemade mozzarella, toasted almonds, and an herbaceous pesto made from the carrot tops. Paprika oil adds an extra-spicy punch of flavor.

The Carrot Steak pairs the sweet vegetable with an herbaceous pesto, housemade mozzarella, toasted almonds, and paprika oil. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
The Carrot Steak pairs the sweet vegetable with an herbaceous pesto, housemade mozzarella, toasted almonds, and paprika oil. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

One of the desserts, called Halva Fluff ($9), is a whimsical display of earthy textures presented in a clear globe. Pistachio foam and halva mousse are swirled with bits of chocolate cake and candied pecans—a light, airy ending to a lively meal.

The Halva Fluff, a light, airy dessert of pistachio foam, halva mousse, chocolate cake, and candied pecans. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
The Halva Fluff, a light, airy dessert of pistachio foam, halva mousse, chocolate cake, and candied pecans. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Green Fig
Located inside YOTEL New York
570 Tenth Ave. (between 41st & 42nd streets)
Fourth Floor
GreenFigNYC.com
646-449-7790

Hours:
Dinner
Monday to Sunday 
5 p.m.–11 p.m.
Brunch
Saturday & Sunday
11 a.m.–4 p.m.